Canada's Hutchinson questionable for World Cup qualifiers

If Canada is to navigate its way through the upcoming slate of World Cup qualifying matches it will likely have to do so without Atiba Hutchinson.

If Canada is to navigate its way through the upcoming slate of World Cup qualifying matches it will likely have to do so without Atiba Hutchinson.

The star midfielder recently underwent surgery after injuring his knee while representing Canada at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June. Hutchinson, who plays professionally for PSV Eindhoven, is still recovering from the surgery and will miss the start of the Dutch league season, which kicks off Friday.

Canadian national team coach Stephen Hart expects Hutchinson, a 28-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., won't be able to participate in the first three qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup. Canada will play six second-round games between September and November, with its first match coming on Sept. 2, when it hosts St. Lucia in Toronto.

"More than likely, [Atiba] would not be available," Hart told reporters during a Thursday conference call. "He had to have some minor surgery. He's started back training very slowly on an individual basis, so that's a touch-and-go issue."

Hart said he hopes to have Hutchinson, an influential midfielder who was voted Canadian player of the year in 2010, back in time for the later qualifying matches.

"It's a matter of him getting back to his best and not being in a situation where he's not mentally ready to go into something like this," Hart explained. "It'll be a on a match-by-match basis, and I will keep in contact with him on that."

Hart also confirmed that Hertha Berlin forward Rob Friend "has a slight injury and that's being monitored."

The injury news isn't all bad for Hart, though.

D. C. United defender Dejan Jakovic recently returned to action for the Major League Soccer club after suffering a serious hamstring injury in an exhibition match against Ecuador just days before the start of the Gold Cup.

Also, midfielder Patrice Bernier, who plays for Danish outfit FC Nordsjælland, has been cleared to play by doctors after a lengthy layoff with a leg injury. Hart said match fitness continues to be a problem for Bernier, as he hasn't played since May.

"I spoke to him last night. He's feeling quite good but then again he hasn't played any matches," Hart stated.

As for Paul Stalteri, the door hasn't been closed.

Stalteri has been a mainstay with the Canadian national team ever since making his debut in 1997, and he is Canada's all-time leader in appearances with 84.

But the 33-year-old defender hasn't played for Canada since last October. Furthermore, he is not under contract with any pro club, and underwent arthroscopic surgery. He is currently undergoing physiotherapy to regain his full fitness.

"Paul has to establish himself with a club and get back on track. He had surgery in [the summer] and even now he would not be ready [to play]. … If he gets playing and he's playing well, he's eligible for selection," Hart said.

Besides St. Lucia, Canada will play Puerto Rico and St. Kitts and Nevis between September and November. The winner of the round-robin group moves on to the third round of World Cup qualifying for CONCACAF, the soccer confederation that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

In the latest FIFA world rankings published last week, Canada dropped 22 places to No. 105, its lowest position since FIFA introduced the rankings in 1993.

Canada is the highest ranked nation in its second-round group, ahead of St. Kitts and Nevis (No. 122), Puerto Rico (No. 141) and St. Lucia (No. 183).

Canada has qualified for the World Cup once, in 1986 in Mexico, when it bowed out in the first round after losing all three of its games and failing to score a single goal.